Hearings and Business Meetings

SD-366 Energy Committee Hearing Room 10:00 AM

Mr. David Bernhardt

Statement of David Longly Bernhardt

Nominee for the Position of Solicitor of the Department of the Interior

 

Before the Committee on Energy and Natural Resources

United States Senate

 

March 9, 2006

Chairman Domenici, Senator Bingaman, and Members of the Committee, I am honored to appear here today as the President’s nominee to be the Solicitor of the Department of the Interior. I ask for your consent to the President’s nomination.

My interest in working on the diverse issues affecting the Department of the Interior stems from many personal experiences.

I am from Garfield County, Colorado. Located in western Colorado, Garfield County is comprised of small rural communities nestled in the Rocky Mountains. The majority of land in Garfield is federally owned. Growing up, I went hiking, hunting, skiing, and riding on those Federal lands.

My personal experiences added clarity and context to my understanding of the vital role the Department of the Interior plays in providing enjoyment, education, and inspiration to present and future generations. I still recall the feelings of wonder and amazement I had as a small child walking through the cliff dwellings at Mesa Verde and climbing into a kiva. The few hours spent at Mesa Verde did more to stimulate a childhood interest in reading than months of effort by my parents and teachers. 

Garfield County’s economy was, and remains, closely tied to activities that take place on these Federal lands whether they are recreational or related to natural resource development. My hometown of Rifle, Colorado, once the self-proclaimed “Oil Shale Capital of the World,” suffered a dramatic economic downturn during the mid-1980s energy bust. Changing economic realities and changing Federal priorities impacted both individuals and the community as a whole for several years. Rifle regained control of its destiny, and today a dynamic vibrant thriving community exists. I know firsthand that the decisions made at the Department of the Interior can have longstanding and very real social and environmental impacts.  I understand the importance of obtaining meaningful input to help ensure informed Federal decisions.

I have had the privilege of working for the past five years with Secretary Norton, an inspiring leader who understands the law and who is interested in practical solutions that achieve on-the-ground results. I had the opportunity to work with Secretary Norton in the private sector, when we both worked at the firm of Brownstein, Hyatt and Farber, P.C.     I initially met the Secretary while serving on the staff of a Member of the House of Representatives, where much of my effort was focused on issues that related to the Department of the Interior.

Since coming to the Department, I held several positions within the Office of the Secretary including: Special Assistant to the Secretary, Counselor to the Secretary, Director of Congressional and Legislative Affairs, and Deputy Chief of Staff. I currently serve as the Deputy Solicitor within the Office of the Solicitor.

During my tenure at the Department, I have had an opportunity to work on many complex issues affecting each of Interior’s diverse bureaus. I have a clear understanding of the often conflicting legal and policy issues facing the decisionmakers within the Department. I have worked as a member of a small focused team addressing many of our longstanding Indian Trust challenges. I have negotiated complex legal settlements and legislative initiatives and have made recommendations to the Department of Justice regarding litigation positions. I have led the coordination of the Department’s effort to implement the National Energy Policy Act of 2005. I have also had the responsibility for managing attorneys and other staff in both the Office of Congressional and Legislative Affairs and the Office of the Solicitor.

 

The primary mission of the Office of the Solicitor is to provide legal support for the goals, objectives, and responsibilities that are given to the Secretary by the President and Congress. Since December 2001, the cadre of talented and dedicated lawyers and staff within the Office of the Solicitor has been disconnected from the Internet. The lack of Internet access for more than three hundred attorneys and their support staff impacts the speed of review and the timing and quality of advice this office provides for all activities conducted within the Department. The loss of connectivity also significantly hampers employee morale. I recognize these impacts and, if confirmed, will work to find a resolution to this situation.

 

In closing, my service over the last five years has given me the opportunity to learn some very significant lessons which I will carry with me into the job of Solicitor. If I receive your consent to this nomination and am confirmed, I will approach questions with an open mind. I will actively seek input and listen to varied views and perspectives to help ensure that the recommendations I make, or conclusions I draw, are more informed. Most importantly, I will work to ensure the Secretary and her subordinate officers receive unbiased and intellectually honest advice regarding their options under the law.

If I am confirmed, I will carry out my responsibilities with dedication and integrity. I will not lose sight of the fact that the decisions we make at the Department of the Interior have longstanding impacts on our Federal lands, the communities that surround them, and our county as a whole.

Thank you, Mr. Chairman, Senator Bingaman, and Members of the Committee for your consideration of the President’s nomination. I ask for your consent, and I am pleased to answer your questions.